Thursday, May 18, 2017

USS Mississippi (BB-41)

In the summer of 1941, USS Mississippi (BB-41) departed from Newport, RI escorting a convoy to Hvalfjordur, Iceland. In Iceland, Mississippi was tasked with protecting shipping facilities. This mission expired after the attack on Pearl Harbor, and Mississippi left Iceland for the Pacific on December 9, 1941. After arriving in San Francisco, she took part in exercises to prepare for initial operations against the Japanese Navy.

Ship's wheel, USS Mississippi
Throughout the Second World War, she engaged in numerous missions and earned eight battle stars. These missions include transporting troops to Fiji from 1942-1943, the restoration of the Aleutian Islands, the invasion of the Gilbert Islands, the shelling of Kwajalein during the Marshall Island campaign in 1944, the liberation of the Philippines, and the battle of Surigao Strait. These are only a few of her notable contributions to U.S. forces in WWII. After Japan surrendered, Mississippi steamed to Sagami Wan, Honshu, and arrived on August 27 as part of the occupation force.

USS Mississippi passing under the San Francisco Oakland Bay Bridge, circa late 1930s
Her fate came in 1956 when Mississippi was decommissioned and deconstructed. Today, few parts remain; those that do provide a glimpse into the past. A few of these artifacts reside at the Naval War College Museum in Newport, RI.

Andy Cirioli
Naval War College Museum intern

Andy is a student at Salve Regina University who recently completed a semester-long internship with us. He will be graduating this month, and the entire NWCM staff would like to offer their congratulations and best wishes for the future!

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Patriotism or Opportunity? Naval Recruits in Newport During the First World War

Naval Training Station Newport was already a busy place when the United States entered the First World War on April 6, 1917. The base operated schools for yeomen, signalmen, hospital corpsmen, commissarymen, musicians, and firemen, as well as a preparatory school for the Naval Academy. On the eve of war, approximately 2,000 recruits lived and trained on Coasters Harbor Island at any given time. That number swelled to over 10,000 following the American declaration of war against Germany. This massive influx of men and women required new housing, training facilities, and infrastructure for the base. Almost overnight, two new training areas named Camp Palmer and Camp Sadler sprang up on Coasters Harbor Island. Tents, temporary barracks, mess halls, and auxiliary buildings filled almost every available piece of open ground. When no more room was left, the Navy bought 161 acres on Coddington Point and began expanding toward Middletown.

The Newport Recruit, vol. 1 no. 4
Box 2, News Collection 9
Naval Historical Collection, U.S. Naval War College

The base newspaper, The Newport Recruit, included an editorial in the April 1917 edition that reflected on the chain of events that had brought the country to the brink of war (it was published one day before the United States entered the conflict), beginning with President Wilson’s decision to maintain U.S. neutrality when fighting first broke out in Europe:

We saw treaties violated, international law defied, and neutral rights utterly disregarded; we saw truth, and justice, and fairplay outraged, we saw blockades instituted that were as illegal as they were indefensible, mines strewn upon the high seas in defiance of every rule of war, submarines let loose to do their will, and all the hideous nightmares of inhumanity which followed when belligerent outvied belligerent in the ghastly work of retaliation.

One month later, the editors commented on the influx of new trainees pouring into Newport. Though the Selective Service Act of 1917 required all men between the ages of 21 and 30 to register for military service, the editors noted that the imposition of the draft did not seem to be lowering the quality of recruits who arrived at the Training Station:

We are getting the finest and the best of our young manhood, but we are delighted to find that the people’s representatives have seen fit to recognize the fact that citizenship has its responsibilities as well as its privileges and that the first and most vital of these is the duty of National Defense.

Physical training at Naval Station Newport, c. 1915
Naval War College Museum Collection
It is interesting to contrast their observations with those made just one year earlier. An editorial in the April 1916 edition of The Newport Recruit complained that in the articles submitted to the newspaper for publication, sailors usually mentioned the educational, physical, and financial benefits of joining the Navy as among their reasons for enlisting. Few, however, cited patriotism as a motive. The editors wondered aloud if the young men of that generation were too materialistic to make good sailors.

Now we don’t for one moment suppose that these young men are unpatriotic, but we do believe that material considerations have so weaned them from an unselfish point of view that patriotism instead of being the compelling impulse behind their interest in the Navy, is merely a secondary issue.

They are more concerned with pay, opportunities of advancement, opportunities of travel, opportunities of acquiring a trade, and opportunities of saving money, than they are in the honor of being enrolled as first line defenders of the Flag. All this is so close to the mercenary spirit, and so utterly divorced from the standard of value which was dear to our fathers, that it is time to make a mild protest against it.

They need not have worried. By the end of the First World War, 65,000 sailors had graduated from the training schools in Newport. Many of them went on to serve in the Atlantic Fleet where their duties included convoy protection, anti-submarine patrols, and laying the North Sea mine barrage, a defensive barrier intended to keep German U-boats out of the Atlantic. Their success in carrying out these operations ensured that American troops reached the front in Europe and contributed to the Allied victory in 1918.

Rob Doane

Curator, Naval War College Museum

Thursday, February 2, 2017

The Naval Command College and the Value of International Alliances

Richard Gary Colbert.PNG
Vice Admiral Richard G. Colbert, c. 1968
In 1956, Captain Richard G. Colbert received an assignment from the Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Arleigh A. Burke, to design a new course for the Naval War College. Drawing on his experience operating in a coalition during World War II and the Korean War, Burke believed that officers from allied navies worked together more effectively when they understood something of each other’s cultures. His instructions to Colbert were to establish a course for senior naval officers from friendly and allied nations who were likely to rise to the top levels of command. This course was named the Naval Command College (NCC). Students attended NCC for eleven months, sitting in on lectures and participating in discussions with their U.S. counterparts whenever possible. The foreign officers benefited from being exposed to the latest ideas in operational theory and naval strategy. They and their American counterparts made personal contacts with officers from all over the world, and the hope was that those contacts would pay off in the future if a crisis arose that could be averted through direct communication between NCC graduates. Colbert shared Burke’s vision for the NCC and served as its director for the first two classes. He arranged for the students to travel outside Newport as well, visiting military, naval, and industrial sites around the country. He and his wife also organized social events in Newport to help foster bonds between the students that, it was hoped, would last well beyond graduation. Since its founding, NCC has graduated 2,148 officers from ninety-one nations. Along with the Naval Staff College, it represents the Naval War College’s commitment to engaging with the international community and promoting understanding and respect between naval professionals from diverse backgrounds.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower meeting NCC students, c. 1960

Colbert maintained this interest in international cooperation throughout his career. From June 1966 to August 1968, he served as deputy chief of staff and assistant chief of staff for policy, plans, and operations to Admiral Thomas H. Moorer, Supreme Allied Commander Atlantic (SACLANT). SACLANT was a NATO command tasked with ensuring the security of the sea lanes to Europe. At that time, NATO conducted an annual exercise named Operation Matchmaker that gave ships from allied navies the opportunity to practice joint operations. Colbert liked the concept and proposed expanding it from an exercise to a permanent contingency force that would be available to respond to a crisis anywhere in NATO’s area of responsibility. His proposal was accepted, and the Standing Naval Force Atlantic was activated in January 1968. Renamed Standing NATO Maritime Group One (SNMG1) in 2005, the force today consists of four to six destroyers and frigates, with Canada, Germany, The Netherlands, and the United States contributing one ship each on a permanent basis. In 2007, SNMG1 assisted Yemen’s Coast Guard with the evacuation of their personnel from Jabal al-Tair following the volcanic eruption on that island. It has also carried out anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden to ensure the safe transit of merchant ships from around the world. Today, SNMG1 represents each member nation’s commitment to the NATO alliance. By working together, the United States and its European allies help to keep the world’s sea lanes open for everyone to use.

SNMG1 photographed in 2007. From left to right:
USS Normandy (CG-60) - United States
Spessart (A1442) - Germany
HNLMS Evertsen (F805) - Netherlands
Colbert went on to serve as the thirty-fifth President of the Naval War College. Dubbed “Mr. International Navy” by Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Elmo R. Zumwalt, Jr., Colbert continued pushing for greater ties between the United States and its allies during his three-year term. In addition to the Naval Staff College, he also founded the International Seapower Symposium, a biennial conference for admirals from around the globe. He remained a staunch advocate of NATO and never ceased working to convince others of the value of multinational forces.
Rob Doane
Curator, Naval War College Museum

Friday, December 30, 2016

Eyewitness to the attack on Pearl Harbor

Sketch of attack on Pearl Harbor from USS Swan
Gift of Mrs. Buren B. Wilkie through the Naval War College Foundation

Seaman Second Class Blaine N. Seeley was serving in the seaplane tender USS Swan (AVP-7) on the morning of 7 December 1941. This drawing, which Seeley likely produced from memory after the attack was over, shows battleship row shortly after the raid began. USS West Virginia (BB-48) can be seen listing in the water just to the right of center. In the far right, USS Arizona (BB-39) burns after a bomb ignited her forward magazines. A damaged Japanese aircraft trails smoke above Arizona while another flies over USS Oklahoma (BB-37) to the left of center.

Swan was in dry dock when the air raid sirens sounded and had no hope of getting underway. Her captain, Lieutenant Commander Finley Eliott Hall, ordered the crew to man the antiaircraft guns and open fire. Fortunately for small auxiliary craft like Swan, the Japanese concentrated their firepower against the battleships. Swan received no damage during the attack and claimed one enemy aircraft destroyed by her 3-inch battery. Hall wrote in his after action report:

The entire crew showed exceptional calmness and courage throughout the action. The two officers on board when the initial action began showed exceptionally keen judgement in diagnosing and controlling the situation.

USS Swan (AVP-7) pictured in 1943 at Mare Island Naval Shipyard
Courtesy of NavSource Online

Following Pearl Harbor, Hall received an early promotion to commander for meritorious combat service.  He subsequently earned a posthumous Silver Star Medal for heroism as the Executive Officer of USS Liscome Bay (CVE-56) during combat operations off Makin Island in November 1943.

Rob Doane
Curator, Naval War College Museum

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Remembering Pearl Harbor

To mark the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Naval War College Museum opened a small exhibit today highlighting the art and artifacts in our collection that relate to the events of December 7, 1941. Among the pieces on display, we were fortunate to receive an incredibly detailed diorama of USS Arizona (BB 39) on loan from its builder, Mr. Robert D. Bracci. The diorama is entitled “Last Liberty” and depicts a poignant scene on the evening of December 6, 1941, as many of Arizona’s crew prepare to go ashore for what will turn out to be their final evening of rest and relaxation. The 1/48 scale vignette features 97 individual figures and uses compressed depth to force the perspective and place focus on the individual sailors. Mr. Bracci carved the ship from two blocks of foam and cut the planks from basswood sheets. He utilized several methods to give his creation added realism, such as making bellbottoms for the sailors’ trousers out of epoxy! Other notable details include the Vought OS2U Kingfisher aircraft and the crew working beneath it to set up a canvas awning for religious services on Sunday morning (which were never held).

“Last Liberty” is a unique addition to this exhibit and we are grateful to Mr. Bracci for making it available to us. It will be on display through June 1, 2017.

Rob DoaneCurator, Naval War College Museum

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Shrapnel from USS Arizona

CAPT Luksovsky holding the metal
fragment that lodged in Quarters H
Last week we were delighted to receive a visit from CAPT Kyle Luksovsky, a Supply Corps officer stationed at Pearl Harbor, who dropped by to see an artifact that has very special meaning to him. He and his wife Katrina live in Quarters H on Ford Island which is located just a few hundred yards from the USS Arizona Memorial. Shortly after they moved to Hawaii in 2013, Katrina took a historical tour of nearby Hickam Field and became interested in finding out who lived in their house on 7 December 1941. Research revealed that it was CAPT Errol Willet, a Navy dentist, and his wife and two children. Katrina went on to identify the families that lived in the 18 other homes in their neighborhood and had signs produced for display outside each house that list the occupants of 1941. But she didn’t stop there – over the next year, Katrina tracked down survivors of the attack who were children during the war, organized a reunion for them in February 2014, and published a book containing their eyewitness accounts of the raid.

The Luksovsky’s interest in the attack on Pearl Harbor also stems from the fact that Quarters H was hit by metal shrapnel, some of which embedded in the side of the house and remained there for years. One of those metal fragments, believed to be from USS Arizona, was donated to the Naval War College Museum in 2002. CAPT Lukovsky dropped by the museum to see it while he was in town, and we were thrilled to show it to somebody who truly appreciates its significance. Thank you to CAPT and Mrs. Lukovsky for the important work you have done helping to keep history alive at Pearl Harbor!

Metal fragment believed to be from USS Arizona (BB 39)

Rob Doane
Curator, Naval War College Museum

Monday, August 15, 2016

An Olympian Takes the Helm at the Naval War College

Rear Admiral Harris Laning

If you’ve been watching the Olympics this week, you may have seen Ginny Thrasher of the United States win the first gold medal of the 2016 games while competing in the ten-meter air rifle event. Did you know that the Naval War College has a special connection with the Olympic rifle competition? Admiral Harris Laning graduated from the NWC in 1922 and served on the staff from 1923-24 before ascending to the Presidency in 1930. Laning was a proponent of wargaming and emphasized the study of tactics during his term. Ten years before he first arrived in Newport, Lieutenant Commander Laning achieved a different honor when he was named captain of the U.S. rifle team for the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm, Sweden.

Lieutenant Harris Laning (center in white uniform) with the 1907 Navy rifle team

At that time, responsibility for organizing the U.S. team lay with the National Rifle Association. In March, the NRA requested that the Navy assign Laning to be the team captain, probably due to the fact that he had been captain of the Navy rifle team in 1907. Tryouts for the team took place at the USMC Rifle Range in Winthrop, Maryland in May. The organizers planned to send an all-military team to Stockholm, so they invited the Army, Navy, Marines, and National Guard to send their best shooters. From that pool, the top eight made the team:

Captain Allan Briggs, Army
Captain Cornelius Burdette, West Virginia NG
Captain Fred Hird, Iowa NG
Lieutenant Carl Osburn, Navy
Ensign Harold Bartlett, Navy
Sergeant Harry Adams, Army
Sergeant John Jackson, Iowa NG
Hospital Steward Warren Sprout, Navy

1912 U.S. Olympic rifle team

Once the team had been selected and turned over to Laning, his job was to form the eight individual shooters into a team. For that, he took them to Annapolis for two weeks of practice at the Naval Academy’s rifle range. While each man was an expert shot, doing well in the team competition would require them to work together by sharing information about wind and light conditions on the range before shooting. Laning drilled them in the correct procedures until they performed to his satisfaction. The team then traveled to New York and boarded SS Finland which had been chartered to transport the entire U.S. Olympic team to Sweden. Some of them may have met a fellow Olympian, Second Lieutenant George S. Patton, who was competing in the modern pentathlon.

Most of the athletes found time to train during the six-day crossing, and the rifle team was no exception. While they could not conduct live fire on the passenger ship, Laning set up a practice range for the team so they could perfect their shooting positions and practice focusing on the target. The extra training served them well. Despite being the last team to arrive at the rifle range just two days before the competition, the United States won the gold medal in the team match, beating out Great Britain and Sweden for the top spot.

Following his term as President of the Naval War College, Laning went on to serve many more tours of duty at sea and ashore before retiring from the Navy in 1937. He died in 1941 and is buried at the Naval Academy.

Rob Doane
Curator, Naval War College Museum